Summary killings, prison overcrowding and assault on critics characterized President Rodrigo Duterte’s human rights record in his first year in office, the group Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Wednesday, June 28.
“President Rodrigo Duterte has unleashed a human rights calamity on the Philippines in his first year in office,” the group said in a statement.
“The government’s murderous war on drugs, drug-related overcrowding of jails and the harassment and prosecution of drug war critics has caused a steep decline in respect for basic rights since Duterte’s inauguration on June 30, 2016,” it said.
Quoting government data, HRW said security forces and unidentified gunmen have killed at least 7,000 suspected drug users and dealers since July 1, including 3,116 killings by the police.
Despite this, the Duterte administration has rejected all domestic and international calls for accountability for the alleged abuses.
“President Duterte took office promising to protect human rights, but has instead spent his first year in office as a boisterous instigator for an unlawful killing campaign,” Phelim Kine, HRW deputy Asia director, said.
“Duterte has supported and incited ‘drug war’ killings while retaliating against those fearless enough to challenge his assault on human rights,” he added.
According to Kine, HRW’s field research Watch found that government claims that the deaths of suspected drug users and dealers were lawful were “blatant falsehoods.”
“Interviews with witnesses and victims’ relatives and analysis of police records expose a pattern of unlawful police conduct designed to paint a veneer of legality over extrajudicial executions that may amount to crimes against humanity,” he said.
While the Philippine National Police have publicly sought to distinguish between suspects killed while resisting arrest and killings by “unknown gunmen” or “vigilantes,” HRW found no distinction in the cases investigated. In several such cases, the police dismissed allegations of involvement when only hours before the suspects had been in police custody.
“Such cases call into question government assertions that the majority of killings were carried out by vigilantes or rival drug gangs,” HRW said.
Because of the war on drugs, HRW said jails have become more overcrowded, worsening the already “dire conditions” in the facilities.
“The drug war has also boosted the number of secret jails in which police unlawfully detain suspects and demand bribes in exchange for release,” HRW said.